How to choose the right type of meditation for you?

When learning how to meditate, knowing where to start can be a challenge. How do you choose between all the types of meditation on offer…between mindfulness meditation and Vipassana meditation, transcendental meditation or Zen meditation? We’re here to help.

types of meditation

Different forms of meditation have evolved over time from different regions and cultures, each helping to train our minds in different ways. It’s important to explore the different types of meditation and see which one resonates with you. Here we offer a simple guide on the main types of meditation you might encounter today. Adiba Osmani teaches meditation, and her advice is to try a few and not feel that you have to choose only one. Any meditation session can combine different techniques, one after the other. With practice, you will soon be able to meditate in a way that is comfortable and suits your needs.

Different types of meditation

Focused Attention Meditation

This is one of the first types of meditation many people learn, practiced to calm and focus our “monkey minds”. Indeed we have minds that wander, scatter, run in different directions, and refuse to stay where we wish to focus. Our modern environment with multiple always-on personal devices is rife with distractions. This can make it hard to get anything done…or even just to stop and relax.

Focused attention meditation invites you to choose an object of focus, and maintain your focus right there. The object of focus can be anything from the breath, to physical sensations, an external object such as a candle or a tree, or a visual image. When the mind wanders off, as it will many times, we are not to beat ourselves up…with gentleness and understanding, we notice the mind has wandered, accept that this is normal, and invite the attention back to the object of focus. The more we notice when we are distracted and bring the attention back, the more our brains will develop the capacity to focus.

This practice helps develop our ability to concentrate and to feel calmer. Studies have shown that even 8 minutes of focused attention meditation reduces mind wandering…for a while. It also helps calm us, because our minds cannot hold any other thoughts while we are for instance focussing on sensations at the tip of our nose. The more this is practiced, the calmer we become, and the more able we are to wield our attention where we choose.

When the mind wanders off, as it will many times, we are not to beat ourselves up...with gentleness and understanding, we notice the mind has wandered, accept that this is normal, and invite the attention back to the object of focus. 

Open Awareness Meditation

open awareness meditation

In contrast to focussed attention, open awareness meditation invites you to be completely open and attentive to whatever sensations, feelings and thoughts arise. It develops an aware, expansive state where we notice and let the sensations, feelings and thoughts come and go without becoming tied up with any of them. Practicing this helps us become present to our immediate experience, helping us stay in the now. It also helps us gain an intimate understanding of our own experience, when we start to notice repetitive thought patterns (“oh here I am thinking about my boss again”), and the subtle or strong emotions and sensations in the body. Finally, open awareness meditation develops the understanding that we are not our thoughts, feelings and sensations, instead we are the silent witness that watches as they come and go. Over time thoughts become less “sticky” and instead of identifying with them or getting carried away by them we develop a distance, and thereby a healthy relationship with them.

Mindfulness Meditation

Originating from Buddhist practices, mindfulness meditation has become well-known and widely practiced in recent times. It combines both focussed attention and open awareness techniques as described above with an attitude of unconditional acceptance and non-judgement, to become fully aware of our in-the-moment experience. Common techniques in mindfulness meditation include body scan meditation, watching our thoughts and being with our emotions. The benefits of this form of meditation have been widely researched for the last 50 years. A mindfulness practice produces measurable improvements in our ability to deal with pain and stress, our ability to focus, and generally enjoy a calmer, more composed state of being where we are more aware of ourselves and the present moment.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Also originating from Buddhist practices, this type of meditation (also known as Compassion Meditation or metta bhavna) develops our sense of compassion for ourselves and others. “Compassion” means “to suffer with” and so with this practice we learn to accept, appreciate, and extend our well-wishing and kindness both inwards and outwards. In doing so, it also cultivates a positive state of mind, one of the main benefits of meditation. Research that has measured the brains of monks who have practiced Loving Kindness meditation for thousands of hours has shown that they are very happy people! An example is Matthew Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk whose brain was studied over a 12 year period at the Centre of Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and who is now known as “the happiest man alive”.

Matthew Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk whose brain was studied over a 12 year period at the Centre of Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is known to be "the happiest man alive"

Visualisation Meditation

visualisation meditation

Visualisation meditation invites you to imagine different sensory experiences, whether by seeing an image in the mind’s eye, or bringing up sounds or sensations in your imagination. Visualization meditation can enhance feelings of relaxation and calmness by brining to mind beautiful scenery, emotion-evoking images or figures. Sometimes there is nothing more welcome than letting ourselves dwell in our favourite nature scene in our minds, hear the sounds, smell the scents, feel the air, and enjoy the waves of relaxation permeate our being.

Using our imagination to go beyond our familiar physical plane can also help expand our mental capacity and perception.

Reflective Meditation

Reflective meditation is a term we are using to describe meditating on a thought, a question, or a feeling. You may be asked to sit with and notice what arises in your experience when bringing to mind a particular thought, question or feeling. This can sometimes lead to deep insights on what you are bringing to mind. For example, you might meditate on gratitude, or kindness, or someone you love, to cultivate the felt-perceptions that arise. The three “Smile” meditations in our guided meditations are examples of reflective meditation, and they combine elements of loving kindness meditation.

An excellent prompt for reflective meditation is for instance to sit with the phrase “I am”. Why not find a quiet moment to sit with the phrase for a few minutes and see what comes up for you?

An excellent prompt for reflective meditation is for instance to sit with the phrase "I am". Why not find a quiet moment to sit with the phrase for a few minutes and see what comes up for you?

Insight Meditation (Vipassana)

Insight meditation, also known as Vipassana, aims to transform the self through self-understanding. By paying attention to sensations, thoughts and emotions, it gains insight into the deep connection between the mind and body, and all subjective experience. Although the techniques in Vipassana are similar to mindfulness meditation, they have evolved from different branches of practice. Furthermore the intention of Vipassana is aligned with its meaning, which is “to see things as they really are” and thereby liberate oneself from suffering. Vipassana is taught in 10-day silent retreats and follows a code of discipline. You can find out more about Vipassana meditation here.

Zen Meditation 

Zen meditation uses the open awareness meditation approach as described above, while sitting in a cross-legged posture for an extended period of time. The intention is to gain insight into the self and free the mind from preconceptions. One of the traditions in Zen is to use a “koan” to provoke the mind; a “koan” is a statement or question that contains a paradox, such as “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
- Zen Koan

Mantra Meditation 

This type of meditation invites you to mentally repeat a particular word or a phrase for a period of time. Examples of mantra meditation are Vedic meditation, Trancendental meditation (TM) and Zikr. Sometimes the word or phrase will have a special meaning for the person, but the main intention of this meditation is to help the mind settle and reach an elevated state of mind that promotes wellbeing and insight. Transcendental Meditation has been made very popular with well-known advocates such as director David Lynch, actor Russell Brand and The Beatles.

Movement Meditation 

movement meditation

Many cultures have movement meditation practices, such as Qi Jong, orignally from China and particular types of yoga meditation, originally from India. They help harmonise the connection between our minds and bodies, and reach a sense of stillness through movement that strengthens both. Yoga means “to unite”, and keeping the awareness present with each yoga posture (asana) has a beneficial effect on focus and calmness as well as the body. Qi Jong is a system of body postures and slow flowing movements requiring complete mental absorption, intended to maintain good health and control the flow of vital energy in the body. Even watching someone practice Qi Jong can be a meditative experience!

In fact, any movement can be meditative if it is done mindfully with full attention, and so we now see renewed appreciation for practices such as walking meditation. Anyone completely in the flow of an activity, such as dancing, martial arts, climbing or swimming, can also reach meditative states when they are fully absorbed in the activity. Indeed, each step in life is an act of meditation with we act with intention and complete presence of mind.

Which type of meditation is right for you?

Hopefully the descriptions we’ve given will help you see which types of meditation resonate with you, however here are some pointers. Think about what has drawn you to try meditation, and go from there.

Although you can get some of the same benefits from different styles of meditation, we offer some suggestions here to get you started.

A few more pointers:

  • If it is difficult for you to sit for extended periods of time, Zen meditation or Vipassana may be challenging at first, so take gradual steps to slowly raise the amount of time your body can take sitting.
  • If you’ve tried one of the many apps that are available to learn meditation and it’s not working for you, it’s always worth going to a class just to see if the experience is different – different teachers have unique styles that may resonate with you and help you make a connection with the practice.

Adiba’s One-to-One Meditation Lesson Plan

Adiba starts her meditation classes with a conversation about what has motivated you to learn meditation and if you have specific intentions for what you hope it does for you. Based on this conversation she will use techniques from the different styles of meditation to best meet your intention. Her style is informal, she encourages you to remain in a comfortable position that is upright rather than adopt any particular pose. Adiba combines periods of guided meditation with some inquiry into how the process is landing for you, exploring your thoughts and comments so that the lesson can evolve to best meet your needs. Her aim is for you to feel more familiar and confident with the practice so that after a few lessons you can practice on your own, checking in if you need periodically.

The most common types of meditation she uses are mindfulness meditation with both focussed attention and open awareness meditation techniques, loving-kindness meditation, reflective meditation and visualisations.

You can book a personalised meditation class with Adiba here that will help you settle into a meditation practice that is right for you.

In conclusion

Meditation is an excellent way to relax your mind and body, enjoy a host of mental and physical health benefits, and develop deep self-understanding and self-compassion. This is proven by scientific research which show that the brains of long term meditators are in fact different from those who do not meditate. The more we practice meditation, the more we can cultivate the qualities of calmness, clarity, concentration, resilience and equanimity. 

There are different styles of meditation that you can try. However, to find the right mix for you, it is important to first understand your own needs and preferences.

We’ve give some guidance on the main types of meditation you will hear about, but of course there are many, many others. Do not be daunted! We believe that anyone can meditate anywhere, just taking a moment out to notice what is going on inside. You don’t need to wear special clothes, be in a special place, have special knowledge or guidance – at it’s simplest, just notice…notice everything from where you are right now…what is going on in your thoughts, what you are sensing, feeling, becoming very familiar and accepting of yourself. Or, pick and object and really see it as if you’re seeing it for the first time…a leaf, a flame, a river. And from this point of presence everything else will follow.

The best way to find out what type of meditation you should choose for you is to give it a try. Our free guided meditations offer a 5 minute taster and bite-sized meditations of 10, 15 and 20 minutes to get you started if you’d like some inspiration.

Or you can book a one-to-one meditation class to help you find your personal path into meditation.

Photo credits (from the top)

Daniel Mingook, James Wheeler, Thao Lee